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Outreach, School of Education and Applied Sciences

The Great Debates 2024

Date / Time

27 February 2024, 9:30am - 2:30pm

After last year’s successful event, we are excited to announce The Great Debates will take place again on 27 February 2024 for Year 12 and 13 (or equivalent).

Get your students discussing some of the biggest topics in the education and humanities sector today.

Schools can choose the areas that they would like to take part in and create a day that suits the interests of students.

Topics include:

  • Religions…why do we need them?
  • What impact will AI have on writing and writers?
  • What should be on the ‘English’ Curriculum?
  • Is it too risky for our kids to ‘play out’?
  • What is the historical basis for modern British identity?

View full list of topics available.*

This is a wonderful opportunity for students to not only experience university study in subjects such as History, Religion, Philosophy and Ethics, English, Creative Writing and Early Childhood Studies, but meet experts in their fields and understand how to form strong arguments.

This event is free of charge, however places are limited, so please email the Outreach Team if you would like to be involved.

*Please let us know your top 5 choices. A maximum of 3 sessions will take place on the day.

Event topics

Religion, Philosophy and EthicsMartin Wood debates, ‘ Religions…why do we need them?’.

In times of severe health and financial crisis with millions reliant on food banks, clothes banks, having to choose between eating and heating and facing rocketing living costs after a world changing pandemic it seems that we are more and more reliant upon help from beyond the state.

Many religious organisations have acted in a spontaneous fashion to alleviate the immediate effects of COVID and the cost of living crisis. But what if we lived in a society that did not need to rely on religion and religions to see them through such times- what if we worked towards dispensing with the need for religion, religions and the charity that they provide?  Would that not be a far better world to live in?

This debate will discuss both sides of this contentious proposal and let you decide whether religion and religions should be part of the human picture
Religion, Philosophy and EthicsMartin Wood debates, ‘you are being sold a lie…the study of religions is crucial, isn’t it?’

For decades now, we have lived in a society that suggests that religion is no longer relevant in public life. This has directly affected the teaching of the study of religions in schools.

Often marginalised and taught by teachers who have little educational grounding or interest in the subject, the study of religions in schools has been presented as a tedious requirement at best and ignored as a subject entirely at worst. Religion has, however always been massively important in the world historically and in the here and now, and the study of religions is far from a boring subject.

This debate will look at the arguments that suggest the study of religions is or central importance to a grounded and well-informed education at school level as well as considering the arguments that are counter to this view.
Religion, Philosophy and EthicsAI and Ethics

We will be exploring the ways in which Artificial Intelligence (AI) is shaping our lives and raising complex philosophical, ethical, social and political questions.
Philosophically, we can ask what is intelligence and whether a simulation of intelligence is identical with human intelligence? What are the limitations with basing AI technology on a model of a brain as computer, when we do not understand what consciousness is? Can we ever objectively understand what consciousness is if our only experience of it is subjective?

Ethically we might want to consider the status of ‘smart’ or ‘intelligent’ devices – for if their intelligence is identical with sentience, do we have a duty of care towards them like we do with all living beings? More practically, what about when AI devices have to make moral decisions e.g., driverless cars – how is morality ‘programmed’ and ultimately who or what is responsible?

Socially and politically, what does our growing dependency on AI mean for the human condition? Are we more or less free? Are we freer in an online world that is curated for us by ‘smart’ algorithms, owned and controlled by massive corporations, in order to sell advertising space and harvest personal data? What about the amplification of political messaging when AI bot farms infinitely repeat a ‘news story’, where if a message gets repeated enough it just becomes ‘true’ in the public eye. How might this affect things like elections and public opinion on domestic and foreign policy or the escalation of war? As the artist Richard Serra said, “if something is free, then you’re the product”
Religion, Philosophy and EthicsClimate Crisis and Ethics

The Climate crisis is one of the most urgent issues facing humanity. What are the moral and political questions raised by climate change? Do we as individuals have obligations to change our behaviour? What do we owe future generations or nature, if anything? Is it better that humans should go extinct in order for life to go on, or can it only be via human existence that solutions to suffering and more moral universe is possible?

Can the human capacity for solidarity and empathy be the prime driver for global change or do economic beliefs and values towards individualism and self-interest mean global cooperation is doomed? Finally, can there even be a sustainable form of capitalism? Are some things more important than ‘money’ and the ‘economy’?
EnglishWhere did English come from?

This session will examine the origins of English and how it came to Britain. It will look at what languages were here before that, and what happened to them.

We’ll look at some Old English texts and listen to how they were pronounced. We’ll ask why languages change over time, and where English could be going in the near future.
EnglishWhy read old books?

Reading old books is hard. Why should we bother? Contemporary literature is much more relevant to the way we live.  Yet literature written before 1900 opens our minds up to other worlds – lost worlds, alternative states and strange languages, but also worlds that are totally relevant to contemporary lived experience.

Myth and folk tales, Shakespeare, Blake, and Victorian Gothic novels, can enrich our understanding in unique ways. Join us for a debate about reading across history.
EnglishWhat should be on the ‘English’ Curriculum?

Does the term ‘English Literature’ mean anything in an age of globalization and cultural change? What writers should we study? Should books translated into English from other languages be studied? How do we create a truly inclusive English curriculum? Join us for our lively debate about the values of literature today.
Creative writingShould anyone tell us what we can and can’t write?

Creativity and free speech can be at odds with one another in some societies. Join us to discuss whether we should be censored as writers. Are some subjects taboo – too transgressive to write about? Should we ensure that our writing doesn’t offend anyone? What are ‘good reasons’ for breaking taboos?
Creative writingWhat impact will AI have on writing and writers?

There has been a lot of discussion about the ability of Artificial Intelligence to create stories and plots, and to write on demand in different styles. While current AI outputs in prose fiction are considerably below the standards that most readers demand, they will improve.

This throws up a huge variety of questions such as: To what extent should authors be using AI to ‘enhance’ their creative projects? Will AI make human writers redundant? Who owns the rights to an AI written novel?
HistoryWhat is the historical basis for modern British identity?

The United Kingdom consists of the separate nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Over the last number of decades, a common British identity has come under increasing strain with the assertion of distinct national identities in the different parts of the United Kingdom. 

In exploring the historical contexts, from the sixteenth century onwards, which gave shape to an emerging British identity, we will consider how British identity might be understood.  Was an idea of Britishness about the formation of a “new” national identity or did Britishness make most sense within the bounds of an expanding British empire?  Without empire, does British identity make less sense? 
Early Childhood StudiesIs it too risky for our kids to ‘play out’?

This session aims to explore how children play in the UK today, and whether they should be ‘playing out’.
Early Childhood StudiesDoes partnership with parents in primary education fit within contemporary family roles, structures and practices?

This session aims to discuss the methods used in primary education to promote and maintain partnership with parents. It will look at whether these methods are inclusive of all families, and if/how they take account of the contemporary lives of parents.